Ron Dermer Faces Big Challenges as Israel’s New Ambassador to the U.S.

Brings GOP Baggage as Tension Rises Over Iran

American Born: Ron Dermer renounced his U.S. citizenship to serve in Israel’s government.
Courtesy of the Embassy of israel
American Born: Ron Dermer renounced his U.S. citizenship to serve in Israel’s government.

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 26, 2013, issue of November 29, 2013.
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In the closed door meeting on Capitol Hill, the new ambassador spoke in favor of increasing sanctions on Iran, despite the White House’s call to avoid new legislation. At the same time he stated that despite differences between Jerusalem and Washington over Iran, relations are still strong.

“He’s a professional, and I’m sure he will do a professional job,” said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I’m not bothered at all about his political views.”

Engel, who has already met with Dermer, pointed to a key advantage the new ambassador has — his close ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has served as a senior advisor for several years. “He is one of those who has the prime minister’s trust and confidence,” Engel said.

In making the rounds on Capitol Hill, Dermer has been paying equal attention to both sides of the aisle. On November 19, even as a group of leading senators was at the White House discussing the Iran issue with Obama, Dermer sat down with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and presented him with a personal letter from Netanyahu. Dermer also gave Reid a copy of a book based on the letters of Yoni Netanyahu, the prime minister’s late brother, who was killed in the 1976 hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda.

Most of Dermer’s meetings in Washington are still described as introductory. But Israeli and American sources have confirmed that in these meetings, he is dealing primarily with Iran.

Dermer has yet to formally present his credentials to the president. Therefore, following protocol, he has refrained from giving interviews, including to the Forward. His official credentialing ceremony is scheduled for early December and will serve as Dermer’s first opportunity to meet with Obama since assuming the post. But it will not be his first visit to the Oval Office; Dermer has accompanied Netanyahu to all his meetings with Obama in past years, and sat in on the Israeli leader’s talks with other administration officials and lawmakers.

Dermer began serving as Israel’s ambassador to Washington on October 1, just as Netanyahu concluded a tense visit to Washington and the United Nations during which the Israeli leader warned against what he viewed as America’s enchantment with Iran’s new leader, Hassan Rowhani. Netanyahu cautioned the Americans against what he saw as their over-willingness to reach a compromise with Iran on the nuclear issue. The decades-long dispute centers on Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran claims is for peaceful purposes, but which much of the world suspects is aimed toward the creation of nuclear weapons.

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